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Cablegate: Hesse Spd Chooses Gerhard Boekel to Challenge

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FRANKFURT 010188

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR GM
SUBJECT: HESSE SPD CHOOSES GERHARD BOEKEL TO CHALLENGE
MINISTER-PRESIDENT KOCH FOR FEBRUARY 2003 STATE ELECTIONS

1. (SBU) Summary. The Hesse SPD voted overwhelmingly on
October 19 for Gerhard Boekel to challenge Minister-
President Roland Koch (CDU) in the February 2003 state
elections. Boekel, a 56-year-old lawyer and former Hesse
Interior Minister, is admired for his integrity and his good
management and team-building abilities. Hesse state
elections are important in Germany next year and could be a
barometer for the national CDU's future chances in 2006
elections. (Minister President Koch is widely discussed as
a CDU chancellor candidate for 2006.) While polls rate
Boekel more trustworthy and likeable than Koch, they also
show Boekel is still a relative unknown to over half the
voters in the state. Chancellor Schroeder's failure to
appear at the Hesse state SPD convention to support Boekel
was viewed by many as a snub. End Summary.


Overwhelming Delegate Support for Boekel
----------------------------------------

2. (U) At its October 19 convention in Wiesbaden, the Hesse
SPD voted overwhelmingly for Gerhard Boekel to challenge
Hesse Minister-President Roland Koch (CDU) in the February
2, 2003 state elections. After his 90-minute speech, 99
percent of the delegates supported Boekel, the best result
ever for an SPD candidate. In his speech, Boekel described
improving education and reduction of youth unemployment as
key issues for his administration. He expressed clear
preference for an SPD-Green Party coalition. (Frankfurt
airport expansion is the only major controversial issue
between the two parties). The Hesse SPD electoral list was
accepted without major changes. It had been vetted in
advance to balance the northern and southern districts of
the party.

3. (SBU) The 56-year-old Boekel was a controversial choice
at first but has managed to unite the party behind him in
recent months. Hesse SPD delegates emphasized to us
Boekel's integrity and team-building ability. They believe
these qualities will help him against the incumbent. (NOTE:
In polls, Hesse M-P Koch, CDU, ranks low among German
politicians in the area of trustworthiness and credibility.
Koch has had to shake off a campaign finance scandal in the
past. But he is admired by many for his energy and
strategic thinking and is frequently discussed as a CDU
chancellor candidate for national elections in 2006. END
NOTE.) Hesse SPD delegates were optimistic after a major
poll (Infratest Dimap) showed that Boekel is considered more
likeable than Koch and that Koch rates lower then previously
assumed in several areas of competence. Boekel's biggest
obstacle is that he is still a relative unknown among the
general population in Hesse: only four out of ten people are
familiar with the former Interior Minister.

4. (SBU) One sour note at the Hesse SPD event was the
failure of Chancellor Schroeder to appear. The Chancellor
cancelled his appearance at the convention at the last
minute with a not-very-convincing excuse, much to the dismay
of Hesse party officials. His absence was seen by some as
displeasure with Boekel's candidacy. Schroeder had
reportedly favored Offenbach Lord Mayor (Oberbuergermeister)
Grandke but was unable to push his candidate through.
Schroeder's failure to appear generated a lot of talk on the
margins and tension among the party delegates. It was
viewed by many as a deliberate snub.

Biographic Information on Boekel
--------------------------------

5. (U) B1oekel studied law at the University of Giessen.
In 1978, he was elected into the Hesse Landtag (state
parliament) and remained a member until his election in 1985
as county executive advisor (Landrat) of Lahn-Dill county.
Boekel served in that position until 1994. Boekel was
appointed Hesse's Interior Minister in July 1994 and served
until 1999. In 2001 Boekel was also appointed Hesse SPD
party chairman succeeding Hans Eichel (former Hesse Minister-
President, now federal Finance Minister). The center-right
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper has described Boe2
kel as "an active administrator with managerial qualities."
Boe3kel characterizes himself as a pragmatic politician of
the center. His sympathies are generally considered to lie
with the right wing of the SPD. As county executive, he
refused to enter into an SPD-Green Party coalition,
preferring more conservative and independent voter groups.

6. (U) As Hesse Interior Minister, Boe4kel stoutly defended
Hesse SPD policies by temporarily halting deportations of
Kurdish asylum seekers. He was also cautious regarding the
return of Bosnian refugees. His performance as minister
enjoyed support from all parties and his centrist approach
comes across well with unaffiliated voters too. Since
assuming a dominating role in the Hesse SPD, Boekel has
begun a number of initiatives to sharpen his party's
profile. One example is his outspoken and early support to
create a network of "all day" schools. He also decided to
abandon the months-long battle over the CDU state party
financing scandal. Boekel felt that the SPD was not gaining
ground with the issue, Hesse politics had been brought to a
near standstill by it, and that the focus needed to shift
back to more substantive matters.

Comment
-------

7. (SBU) Roland Koch was barely known in Hesse when he was
nominated to run against Hans Eichel in 1999. This has
given hope to the SPD, which has still not recovered from
its election defeat in the last state elections. The Hesse
state elections are the most important in Germany next year.
Not only might the CDU lose its majority in the Bundesrat if
Boekel wins, but Koch's career may suffer a serious setback.
For this reason, one might have expected Chancellor
Schroeder to show interest in giving Boekel a good show of
support. The Hesse SPD was certainly disappointed with
Schroeder's failure to appear. In any case, Boekel has a
lot of heavy campaigning to do to build his image and ensure
an election victory. The Hesse SPD is fully behind him now.
End comment.

8. This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

BODDE
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